Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi 2-in-1 laptop
A solidly built device that's easy to use as a tablet or as a notebook
- Solid build quality
- Simple conversion from notebook to tablet
- Battery life isn't impressive
Price$ 1,599.00 (AUD)
For those of you who like the idea of having a tablet and notebook in one physical device, the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi is a neat example of what you should be looking for. It’s a 2-in-1 device with a firm tablet-first design that runs Intel’s Core M CPU. That CPU allows the tablet to be thin, silent, while at the same time providing a decent balance of performance and battery life -- or so it should.
A high-res, 12.5in tablet screen
The size of the T300 Chi’s screen is 12.5 inches and it has a native resolution of 2560x1440 pixels. As a tablet, this size makes it useful for consuming Web pages, e-publications, looking at photos, and watching movies. As a notebook, that size can be used capably for multitasking by placing two windows side by side.
However, due to the fine resolution, the chances are that you might have to scale the display settings to make the text and icons bigger so that the screen can be easier to read and items can be easier to touch. It's not as bad as the scaling required on the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, for example, which has a 13.3in, 3200x1800-pixel screen, but we had to set the display to the second biggest text setting in Windows 8.1, which was most comfortable for our eyes. Some tooltips and dialogue boxes don't scale in Windows, and can still be hard to read unless you get close to the screen.
You can use the 12.5-inch screen as a tablet simply by pulling it off the keyboard base. There aren’t any levers or locks to manipulate in order to do this. Instead, the screen is held to the keyboard base with strong magnets, and this makes it a clean operation to remove and replace the screen. It’s a neat overall design, and because there are no electrical contacts, you can sit the screen facing out, which is convenient when you want to use the tablet as a display device for watching online video streams, for example.
On its own, the tablet weighs 710g, and it’s comfortable to hold, in particular while lazing on the couch. It’s solidly built, with a back that doesn’t bend when put under pressure, and it looks rather attractive as far as Windows tablet designs are concerned. A tapered design means that the slim edges make the tablet look slimmer than its 8mm (which is the maximum thickness in the middle), and the ports that have been installed on those edges are of the micro variety.
In addition to a headset port, there is a micro-HDMI port and a USB 3.0 micro-B port on the right side for things such as OTG (on-the-go) USB sticks, while the bottom has a microSD card slot so that you can install some extra storage capacity. A micro-USB 2.0 to USB adapter cable is supplied so that you can connect regular USB sticks and hard drives. The tablet can’t be charged using the micro-USB port; instead, the charger needs to be plugged on the left side. A micro-USB to micro-USB cable is supplied so that the keyboard base can be charged by being plugged in to the tablet.
The keyboard base connects to the tablet using Bluetooth, rather than any physical electrical connectors. The hinge has two poles that align with the hinge holes in the tablet in order for the two pieces to make a secure attachment. You have to remember to keep the Bluetooth base charged, and also to switch it on when you want to use it. It goes to sleep on its own after periods of inactivity if you leave it on constantly, and we found that we could only wake it up by pressing a key, rather than moving our finger across the touchpad (though that's not uncommon for wireless keyboards). That was a little frustrating until we got used to it.
As a notebook device, the T300 Chi weighs 1.44kg, and is more than capable of being used for everyday tasks. Despite all the processing being in the screen, the unit isn’t too top-heavy, and it didn’t lean back and fall off our lap when we took our hands off the palm rest. The screen tilts back to about 130-degrees, and the base lifts up a bit off the table at that tilt to provide a slight slant when typing on a flat surface.
Typing is easy on the full-sized keys, which we found to be relatively soft, responsive, and with deep travel of about 1mm. A little bouncing was present in the centre of the keyboard, but it wasn’t something that concerned us apart from it causing the board to rattle a little during fast typing sessions.
We like the layout of the keys, and especially the space that has been given to the arrow keys. A small touchpad (81x45mm) provided accurate control over the pointer, and it allowed us to perform gestures such as two-finger scrolling, two-finger taps (for bringing up the right-click menu), and three-finger swipes. However, the three-finger swipes didn’t work in Firefox, and this is something that we have seen from Asus’ touchpad software on some other laptops.
We found the overall user experience to be good when using the T300 Chi as a both a tablet and a notebook, but we did notice a couple of things that were annoying. Primarily, the finish on the rear of the tablet and the palm rest is prone to collecting fingerprints and smudge marks. We found ourselves cleaning the unit quite often.
The other thing that stood out to us was an overdone screen colour. Our photos showed up with too much yellow colouring by default, and this was backed up when we placed the screen side by side with desktop monitors and other laptops.
Performance and battery life
Performance from this 2-in-1, Intel Core M-5Y71 machine was to our expectation, with our Blender 3D rendering test taking 1min flat to complete, and 3DMark’s Ice Storm and Cloud Gate tests recording 35,868 and 3403, respectively. We were able to browse most Web sites comfortably as long as they weren’t bogged down by too many elements, at which point there was some noticeable sluggishness as elements loaded or ran in the background.
Video-on-demand services such as Netflix (SD quality, based on Microsoft Silverlight) and NBA League Pass (up to 1600Kbps, based on Adobe Flash) streamed in good health using our 2.4GHz wireless network (the Wi-Fi module is an Intel Dual Band Wireless-N 7265 and can do 802.11ac). During this task, a warm spot developed on the bottom-right of the tablet.
Supporting the Core M-5Y71 CPU is 8GB of RAM and a 128GB solid state drive (SSD) with a formatted capacity of 105GB. The performance of the SSD wasn’t mind-blowing in CrystalDiskMark, with its sequential read and write marks being 284.5 megabytes per second (MBps) and 208.9MBps, respectively. If you find that you need more space, you can use the microSD card slot to add a little more.
Other things you need to know about the T300 Chi are that it has stereo speakers that fire out to the side (you’ll need headphones or a Bluetooth speaker for enjoyable audio -- the keyboard and a speaker can be connected simultaneously), there is one camera (an inward-facing webcam) and a built-in microphone, and its battery life isn’t as good as it should be for a tablet.
In our battery rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness, and loop a Full HD video, the tablet lasted only 3hr 55min. The big power hog in this test was the screen’s 1440p resolution, and the high brightness. The battery life will vary depending on the screen brightness you use and the tasks that you run -- tasks such as online video streaming will drain it even quicker. The keyboard base has its own battery to keep the Bluetooth connection alive. A full charge of the tablet takes about two hours using the supplied wall adapter (the keyboard needs to be charged separately).
What's the verdict?
We like the neatness of the T300 Chi’s design, and the fact that it’s so easy to turn from a notebook into a tablet and back into a notebook. It depicts both devices quite well, especially if you aren’t running any demanding tasks, and the build quality is high so that each device scenario feels assuredly solid.
On the flipside, we’re not keen on the battery life, which we think should be longer for a tablet device, and the screen’s colouring was a little overdone by default. The $1599 price is also a hurdle that needs to be overcome when considering this product, despite its premium build.
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Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.
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